Daniel Island–Based Firms are Leaders in Digital Technology
***image1***Daniel Island is by most accounts a quaint-looking community. Therein lies its charm.
But behind the neo-Victorian, earth-tone facades lurks a formidable digital infrastructure that makes the island a Mecca of sorts for today’s high-tech companies and ambitious entrepreneurs.
“Daniel Island has always been planned as a ‘modern-day’ extension of the city of Charleston, offering the benefits of living in a small town with a historic past, but also the convenience of 21st-century services and amenities,” said Julie Dombrowski of The Daniel Island Company.
For example, she said that Daniel Island was one of the first planned communities in the U.S. to incorporate fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) services for residents.
This commitment to digital technology has also made Daniel Island a magnet for cutting-edge information-technology companies. This includes corporations such as Blackbaud, Modulant, CSS, and SunCom, which collectively employ more than 1,400 workers. In addition, Mount Pleasant-based BenefitFocus, which currently has 165 employees, is constructing a two-building corporate campus off of Fairchild Street and expects to add up to 200 jobs in coming years.
But Daniel Island is not a digital oasis in an analogue Lowcountry. It is part of a larger cutting-edge entity called the Charleston Digital Corridor. This is an initiative to attract, nurture and grow Charleston-area technology companies through public and private efforts.
Ernest Andrade, Director of Business Development for the City of Charleston, created the local digital corridor concept, which was launched in February 2001. One yardstick of its success is the numbers of Charleston-based “knowledge-based” companies that have cropped up during the past four years. There were approximately 18 tech companies here when the digital corridor was started; today there are 75, according to Kimberly Demetriades, development coordinator for the Charleston Digital Corridor.
“Knowledge-based” refers to a company or organization that uses new or incrementally beneficial approaches to their respective fields, she said. The types of companies include, but are not limited to, those in the fields of information technology, biotechnology, telecommunications, medical device design and engineering, scientific discovery and proprietary electronic equipment and applications.
Matt Sloan, COO of The Daniel Island Company, has high praise for Andrade and what his organization has achieved.
“Historically, efforts to recruit businesses to the Charleston area have largely been focused on the industrial sector,” Sloan said. “It certainly has been a great thing for Daniel Island that the City and Ernest Andrade have been so successful with their efforts targeting technology-based businesses. Their initiative helped get Benefitfocus.com to come here. These types of businesses are a great fit for Daniel Island.”
The Digital Corridor has four distinct districts on the Charleston Peninsula and Daniel Island. Each area offers a diverse range of options to meet the size, price, personality and infrastructure requirements of “knowledge-based” companies, according to Demetriades.
These are the Wharf, University, Gateway and Cainhoy districts, which includes Daniel Island and businesses along Clements Ferry Road. In addition, the Digital Corridor now has auxiliary members, which are tech companies based in North Charleston, Mount Pleasant and elsewhere.
“These companies are at the heart of the city’s initiative to diversify its economic base, raise per-capita income of residents and retain its brightest minds,” Demetriades said, noting that the member companies also provide the Digital Corridor with ongoing financial, technical, developmental and professional support.
Benefitfocus.com President and CEO Shawn Jenkins is excited about the move. His company is the leading provider of employee benefits software and services for use via the Internet and touch-screen kiosks.
“We love the fact we are moving right into the heart of the Digital Corridor’s Cainhoy District.” Jenkins said. “Our new location will better enable us to attract high-caliber technology professionals who are at the core of our tremendous growth. Ernest and Kimberly were instrumental in coordinating our efforts to move to Daniel Island and we look forward to playing an active role in future Digital Corridor activities.”
By continuing to attract knowledge-based companies to the Lowcountry, Demetriades is optimistic about its benefits to the Charleston area and Daniel Island in particular.
“As Charleston’s knowledge-based sector continues to grow, new and expanding businesses will join the 1460 tech professionals and eight Digital Corridor companies in making Daniel Island their place to work and live,” she said.